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Politics, Economists and the Dangers of Pragmatism: Reflections on DFID's Governance and Conflict Conference

Duncan Green's picture

DFID really is an extraordinary institution. I spent Monday and Tuesday at the annual get together one of its professional cadres – about 200 advisers on governance and conflict. They were bombarded with powerpoints from outside speakers (including me), but still found time for plenty of ‘social loafing’, aka networking with their mates. Some impressions:

They are hugely bright and committed, wrestling to get stuff done in some of the most difficult places on the planet, familiar with all the dilemmas of ‘doing aid’ in complex environments that I talk about endlessly on this blog. A visitor muttered about the quality and nuance of discussion compared to the uncritical can-do hubris of much of what they hear in Washington.
 
In fact, since the Australians and Canadians wound up their development departments, DFID looks pretty well unique in the international scene – heroic keeper of the flame or aid’s Lonesome George heading for species extinction? We’ll find out over the next few years.

The Challege of Doing Development Differently

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

The Doing Development Differently workshop was organised by the Building State Capacity gang at Harvard’s Center for International Development and the Overseas Development Institute; read more about the workshop here. I was unfortunately able to only attend Day 1 and a tiny bit on Day 2 but caught up through all the videos that are online. See Day 1 summary; and Day 2 summary
 
Here are some thoughts:

  1. Doing Development Differently (DDD) is the big picture: DDD is about the details and the beauty of innovation and creativity on the ground, but, more importantly, it is about the big picture. As the workshop signalled (at least) to me, the battleground for DDD conspirators/crusaders is the top table, with donors and policymakers, the moneybags, decision-makers and influencers. Expressed in an extremely clichéd way, the goal ought to be to facilitate ‘d’ on the ground by changing the rules of the ‘D’ game. This makes sense to me. Gathering and influencing activists and local champions is a necessary but not sufficient condition for real change. At the same time, this workshop definitely missed a trick by not having participants from governments (I am sure the organizers considered this long and hard), which in many middle- income countries have come to be all of the above actors – the moneybags, the policy/decision-makers, etc. For DDD thinking to go beyond just aid, it is important that governments are included in these conversations.

Quote of the Week: George Packer

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"Journalists become reliably useful to governments, corporations, or armed groups only when they betray their calling.” 

- George Packer, an American journalist, novelist, and playwright. He is well- known for writing on U.S. foreign policy in the The New Yorker and for his book The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq.

GDP is Not Destiny

Roxanne Bauer's picture
In a 1968 speech, Robert Kennedy recognized gross national product “measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon agreeed in 2012 suggesting, “We need to move beyond gross domestic product as our main measure of progress, and fashion a sustainable development index that puts people first,” and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said in 2008, “GDP tells you nothing about sustainability.”

Even Simon Kuznets, who first coined the term GDP acknowledged in his original report to the US Congress 1934 that, "The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income."

Taking up the call for a better, more wholesome way to measure progress, the Social Progress Index, offers a framework for measuring the multiple aspects of social progress based on three dimensions: basic needs for survival, foundations of wellbeing, and opportunity.  It does not measure how much money is spent on policies or services that support these dimensions, but rather the experiences of citizens.

Michael Green, CEO of the Social Progress Index, gives the following Ted Talk to explain how the index measures the welfare of societies and what its policy implications are. He reveals a dramatic reordering of nations according to social progress.
What the Social Progress Index can reveal about your country

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

So Maybe Money Really Does Buy Happiness?
Inc. Magazine
Emerging Asian nations are finding out what developed ones did years ago: money--and the stuff it buys--brings happiness. Levels of self-reported well-being in fast-growing nations like Indonesia, China and Malaysia now rival those in the U.S., Germany and the United Kingdom, rich nations that have long topped the happiness charts, according to a Pew Research Center global survey released Friday. It says it shows how rises in national income are closely linked to personal satisfaction. The pollsters asked people in 43 countries to place themselves on a "ladder of life," with the top rung representing the best possible life and the bottom the worst. Pew carried out the same survey in 2002 and 2005 in most of those countries, enabling researchers to look at trends over time.

Telling It Straight: How Trustworthy Government Information Promotes Better Media
CIMA
In new and emerging democracies, in countries coming out of conflict, in societies in transition where for decades information was repressed, being open with the public through the press and disseminating reliable information in a systematized and responsive fashion is a new concept. Yet, just as the media are crucial to informing the public, so too are governments in getting out information that reporters and hence citizens can use.

What Happens when 20 Middle East Decision Makers Discuss Theories of Change?

Duncan Green's picture
My first job after returning from holiday (disaster tourism in Northern Ireland – don’t ask) was to speak on Theories of Change to a really interesting group – ‘building a rule of law leadership network in the Middle East’, funded by the UK Foreign Office. The John Smith Trust has about 20 lawyers, civil servants, policemen, UN personnel and business people for a 3 week training programme. Equal numbers of men and women, from Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman. Chatham House rules so that’s your lot viz info.

Over the course of a year, each Leadership Fellow develops an Action Plan for reform back home, ranging from girls’ education to police training to civil society strengthening, and will work on it during their UK visit, where they get inputs from people like me, discussions and visits to the UK Parliament and elsewhere.

I was presenting on theories of change (ToCs) – here’s my powerpoint. My co-presenter (from a UK thinktank) defined a ToC as ‘a conceptual map of how activities lead to outcomes’. As you might imagine, I disagreed with the implied linearity of that. But the disagreement, and the views of those present was interesting.

Media (R)evolutions: The Cloud and the Connectivity Revolution

Roxanne Bauer's picture
New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

For many people, "the cloud" is a nebulous term, but it simply refers to software and services that operate on the Internet instead of directly on a computer. Dropbox, Netflix, Flickr, Google Drive, and Microsoft Office 365 (a/k/a Outlook) are all cloud services-- they do not need to be installed on a computer.

According to a report by Gartner, one third of digital data will be in the cloud by 2016. Cloud computing is an attractive option for many entrepreneurs, businesses, and governments in developing countries that seek to service large populations but which require an alternative to heavy ICT infrastructure. Moreover, as mobile apps and PC software are increasingly tied to the cloud, its adoption is likely to increase.  

Doing Development Differently: Report Back from Two Mind-Blowing Days at Harvard

Duncan Green's picture

SDDD logospent an intense two days at Harvard last week, taking part in a ‘Doing Development Differently’ (DDD) seminar, hosted by Matt Andrews, who runs Harvard’s ‘Building State Capability’ programme and ODI. About 40 participants, a mixture of multilaterals and donors (big World Bank contingent), consultants and project design and implementation people, and a couple of (more or less) tame NGO people like me (here’s the participants list).

The purpose was to learn from success, based on 15 short (7m) filmed presentations, which are all online, and ensuing discussions. The premise of the meeting was that there is something like an incipient movement around DDD. As you would expect at such an early stage, it is fragmented and messy (people using the same words to mean different things, lack of clarity on what is/is not included, overlap with other initiatives like the Thinking and Working Politically crew etc), and clearer on what it is against (linear thinking, tyranny of the logframe etc) than what it is for. So this meeting aimed to try and clarify terms and ways of thinking, and build something like a community of practice and consensus among adherents.

The Things We Do: How Goals Corrupt

Roxanne Bauer's picture

China has a long tradition of burying the dead and building tombs to honor them. This ancient practice, however, has recently been butting heads with modernity as the Chinese government now needs to conserve limited land for farming and development to support its people.  In an effort to use land more effectively, the government launched a campaign to encourage cremation instead of burial, and authorities demanded that a minimum number of corpses be cremated each year, based on the total population of the previous year.
 
The campaign, however, led to unexpected results.  At the start of November, two officials in China’s Guangdong province were arrested for allegedly buying corpses in order to meet the strict cremation quotas. Police from Beiliu City in Guangxi Province began investigating the theft of bodies in the region during the summer and apprehended a grave robber named Zhong in July. Zhong admitted to stealing more than 20 bodies from the graveyards of local villages in Guangxi at night. He then transported the bodies to Guangdong province to the east, where he sold them to two local officials. These two officials, He and Dong, were formally in charge of funeral management reform in the province and were arrested for purchasing the corpses with the intent of delivering them to a funeral parlor for cremation on the official registry.

Compare this to public school teachers in the United States who cheated on standardized test scores by illegally viewing tests ahead of the test date and changing their students’ answers to meet high yearly targets for student progression.

Being a Guide Can Be More Rewarding than Running a Marathon on One's Own

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

I'm often asked what I think about as I run. Usually the people who ask this have never run long distances themselves. I always ponder the question. What exactly do I think about when I'm running? I don't have a clue.”    ― Haruki Murakami
 
This reflection was inspired by the contemporary Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, in his 2009 memoir on his obsession with running and writing while training for the New York City Marathon entitled “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”
 
I only read two books in my life in one sitting: Quo Vadis by the Polish Novelist and Nobel Prize Laureate, Henryk Sienkiewicz, and now Marakami’s funny and sobering, playful and philosophical personal contemplation. One of the reasons why I enjoyed the story is the fact that Tokyo, New York City and Boston are cities to which I have special sentiment. Tokyo due to its magnificence as the Mega City, The Big Apple is a place where both of my kids were born, and Boston due to my daughter’s Alma Mater, which instilled in her the joy of running along the Charles River banks in Cambridge.
 
I am a former track cyclist, where speed is the winning factor; as such endurance competition translates to me as boredom and long, self-imposed unnecessary torture. My relationship with sport is love-hate mixed with a lack of interest on a good day, but when I am in, I am into it big time. In my wildest dreams, I would not have dared to envision myself as a marathon runner, but what is so appealing in it: to do something which seems impossible. I was always fascinated with the notion of turning the impossible into the possible, and I was blessed to get a semi-regular taste of these sweet moments in my life.

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